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AL-KO, Wilson Trailer Launch ‘Industry First’

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

AL-KO Kober and Wilson Trailer recently introduced the first ever dedicated rubber torsion triple-axle system, according to a press release.

Wilson Trailer, a well-respected livestock trailer manufacturer established in 1890, was looking for supplier of a rubber torsion triple-axle configuration to meet their customers’ specialized needs. After being advised by its axle manufacturer not to use the axles in that configuration, Wilson trailer joined forces with AL-KO, a full-line trailer axle manufacturer based in Elkhart, Ind., to develop this groundbreaking system.

“Taking a regular axle system and putting it into a triple-axle configuration is not ideal. Mechanically speaking, safety and performance can only be properly addressed when the axles are pre-designed to work together as a single unit,” said Tim Kuppler, AL-KO president. “Not only that, but we have to consider the live cargo involved. The rebound with rubber torsion is controlled and transfers minimal road shock to the animals, making it easier on their knees, which is extremely important to the consumer. There was no specifically designed system that addressed all these concerns, so we put our heads together with Wilson Trailer and invented it ourselves.”

The new triple-axle configuration features improved side-load capability and empty-load ride enhancement, touting a combined 21,000-lb. load capacity. This patent-pending product is the latest addition to the new AL-KO Advanced Design program that builds strength into key components so less material is required while still providing the same or even increased power.

“It’s a prime example of our continual efforts to come out with products that are both more powerful and more efficient. With our Advanced Design you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other,” Kuppler said.

Through “brutal” testing at Bosch Automotive Proving Grounds, the triple-axle system was shown to stand up to the toughest conditions. “Our track testing involved an extensive road course over a variety of destructive events designed to recreate the worst of real-life situations,” Kuppler said.

The system as a whole and its components were tested and measured for impact, load variations, stress and endurance. It was monitored and inspected throughout the testing process, with a professional film crew on site to capture the dynamic responses.

“In the end, the trailer and the triple axle system passed with flying colors,” Kuppler said. “We’re very proud to be able to present this to the market.”

For more information about AL-KO, call 574-294-6651 or visit www.AL-KOusa.com.

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AL-KO Kober Marks 80 Years, 25 Million Axles

April 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Company marks 80th year.

Company marks 80th year.

Editor’s Note: The following story was provided by AL-KO Kober.

It’s a success story that embodies the hopes of the working man: Hard work and determination really can make dreams come true.

Eighty years ago, Alois Kober was a young man who started a humble welding and locksmith’s shop in Bavaria and prospered by having an eye for advanced designs for the tools of his trade. As he diligently pursued innovations in engineering and functionality, his business grew over time from the tiny shop he founded in 1931 to an international manufacturer and supplier.

AL-KO Kober came to the U.S. in 1983 and began producing rubber torsion axles for several markets in its trademark hexagonal shape, a revolutionary new design providing superior shock absorption capabilities and virtually eliminating shock transfer. U.S. operations expanded again with the purchase of Hayes Axle in 1996, which opened the door for AL-KO to provide an even more comprehensive product line and established the company for more years of stability and increasing business.

Today, AL-KO Kober is a full-line manufacturer of axles, brakes, hubs and drums for the RV, cargo and commercial trailer markets with 3,600 employees over 50 locations worldwide. This year AL-KO celebrates 80 years in business and 25 million axles built, with third-generation Kobers at the helm and all its employees keeping Alois Kober’s quest for innovation alive.

AL-KO Kober hub and drum machining plant in Elkhart, Ind.

AL-KO Kober hub and drum machining plant in Elkhart, Ind.

Tim Kuppler, president of AL-KO’s Elkhart, Ind.-based U.S. operations, said this is a time for both reflection and expectations. “It’s a great story, how this company was founded and how far it’s come. It’s all very worthy of celebration,” he stated. “But we’re not content to just throw ourselves a party and be satisfied with what we’ve done up to this point. It’s not about looking behind so much as building on the momentum of the past to go even further forward, because we’re not done telling this

AL-KO has continually looked for the next great design and technology to make its products better and its customers happier, Kuppler said. The latest example is the company’s Advanced Design product series that builds strength into key components, so less material is required while still providing the same or even increased power.

“With 80 years of growth behind us, we’re excited about the future of AL-KO. We’ve already started seeing a substantial rise in sales following the release of our Advanced Design product line into the market,” he said. “We know that to ensure future growth, we have to make it our mission to provide the best designs possible. We can’t be content building the same products year after year just because that’s the way it’s always been; we keep our eyes open for ways to make them even better. That’s the way we’ve always operated, and we continue to hold up that standard.”

For more information about AL-KO, call (574) 294-6651 or visit www.AL-KOusa.com.

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Elkhart Axle Maker’s Job Fair Nets Big Crowd

February 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

e1297815129Industrial and RV axle and brake manufacturer AL-KO Kober was flooded with applicants at a recent job fair to fill positions at its Elkhart, Ind., facilities. The turn-out was so high that although the fair was scheduled from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., it took AL-KO staff until 2 p.m. to process them all, according to a news release.

“The atmosphere was high-energy. It was palpable,” said Suzanne Griffin, director of human resources. “People were hopeful, arrived early and patiently waited while we tried to match people and their skills with AL-KO’s current needs. We were amazed at the number of people who came out.”

Almost 250 people applied for the 15 to 20 jobs that were posted. Nine were filled that day and 12 more in subsequent days. More new hires are still being brought in, particularly CNC machine operators, Griffin said.

AL-KO President Tim Kuppler said there are a few reasons for this expansion. “We needed to allow for early training and development of new employees for our peak season starting in March,” he stated. “We also anticipate at least 20% sales growth over the coming year as a result of substantial progress we’ve had in gaining new customers both locally and across North America.”

Both the upturn in business and new optimism within the staff are a result of a new company strategy called “The AL-KO Advantage,” they said.

“The AL-KO Advantage creates advantages for our customer base, such as new products, a parts program, marketing support and so on,” Kuppler explained. “That all leads to increased sales and sales potential, which increases activity and in turn allows us to hire more people.”

And those people appreciate it. “There’s a positive demeanor among our employees. I attribute it to the positive energy of the AL-KO Advantage strategy,” Griffin stated. “It focuses on our employees as well as our customers.”

An added bonus to this expansion, said Kuppler, is the ability to offer jobs to the local unemployed. “It’s hard to see so many of our neighbors hurting for jobs. It’s a great feeling to be able to bring folks in and get them working again.”

And indeed, as business continues to grow at AL-KO and more applicants are being called in and hired, there is a sense of relief that the recession’s grip is lessening, said Griffin. “I appreciate all the people who came out for the job fair and wish them much success with their jobs, wherever they land,” she said. “And to the many who are without jobs, I hope they land soon.”

AL-KO Kober is a full-line manufacturer of axles and brakes for cargo, industrial and RV trailer markets. Its U.S. operations are based in Elkhart,  with additional manufacturing facilities in Shawnee, Okla.; Tifton, Ga.; and LaGrande, Ore. Founded in 1931 as a small welding shop, the company now has 40 companies throughout the U.S., Europe, Australia and Asia with 4,000 employees worldwide. For more information, visit www.al-kousa.com or call 574-294-6651.

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Oregon OEM Makes Big Moves in Northwest Market

July 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

 

Outdoors RV Mfg. CreekSide travel trailer

Outdoors RV Mfg. CreekSide travel trailer

While the RV industry generally is in the doldrums, Ron Nash, president of Northwood Manufacturing Inc., La Grande, Ore., hasn’t let that stop a major expansion effort on his part in the Northwest.

In recent months Nash has:

  • Purchased for just over $2 million Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.’s 86,000-square-foot La Grande factory that Fleetwood closed before declaring chapter 11 bankruptcy in March.
  • Started another company — Outdoors RV Manufacturing Inc. — hiring  about 100 former Fleetwood employees to build four new towable brands in the former Fleetwood plant.
  • Acquired more than $200,000 in parts and supplies from Riverside, Calif.-based Fleetwood as part of a new program to enable Outdoors RV to repair orphaned Fleetwood Prowler, Wilderness, Terry, Mallard and Backpack travel trailers.
  • Built a 40,000-square-foot chassis shop adjacent to Northwood’s factory in La Grande, leasing part of it to axle manufacturer Al-Ko Kober, to supply chassis for both Northwood and Outdoors RV products.

Nash, for his part, says he’s in for the long haul.

”This is my job,” Nash told RVBusiness. ”This is what I love doing. Whether there are half as many people in the business when this is all over with, it’s not going to be me that is going to be gone. We have been low key about spending money, and we socked a lot away so that we can do what we need to do.”

The new chassis facility and recently created Outdoors RV lines greatly increase Nash’s presence as a regional manufacturer in the Northwest U.S. and Western Canada. Outdoors RV also puts Nash in the entry-level and lightweight towable markets for the first time.

Outdoors RV has completed 50 units and signed up about 40 dealers since going into production May 19 with the entry-level CreekSide (wood and aluminum), lightweight TamarackTrail (aluminum and fiberglass), TimberRidge (aluminum and laminated fiberglass) and luxury lightweight WindRiver (aluminum and laminated fiberglass) travel trailers. Base MSRPs range from $15,000 for the CreekSide to $29,000 for WindRiver.

Nash reported a backlog of 450 units, an impressive number for a new company in a tough market. ”A lot of our units are being sold through the good Fleetwood dealers who were there before,” Nash said.

Former Fleetwood Vice President Jim Croxton serves as general manager of the new Outdoors RV operations and Darin Nelson is sales manager.

While Nash has focused recently on getting the Outdoors operation up and running, he reported that sales of Northwood’s Nash and Arctic Fox travel trailers and fifth-wheels, Arctic Fox truck campers and Desert Fox sport utility RVs have increased substantially from a year ago.

”Production is down from a few years ago, but last week we did 63 units,” Nash said. ”Truck campers have really taken off. Last year, there were times when we were only six or seven a week.”

Production of the newly named Outdoors units — CreekSide, TamarackTrail, TimberRidge and WindRiver travel trailers — is expected to result in $28 million to $30 million in sales the first year, according to Nash, the former general manager in the early 1990s of the Fleetwood La Grande plant that he bought for just over $2 million.

Fleetwood should emerge soon from Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a motorized RV builder under new ownership, but not in towables.

Although moving to fill the market vacuum in travel trailers created by Fleetwood exit, Outdoors RV will not replicate Fleetwood’s offerings.

”We are changing some things to make the product more bulletproof,” Nash said, noting that front caps on Outdoors RV products will be fiberglass instead of ABS to better withstand cold temperatures. Units also will be better insulated and equipped with heated and enclosed holding tanks while radius rubber roofs have replaced fiberglass roofs for the same reason.

”We want to make sure our stuff is more durable,” Nash said. ”Our whole thrust is that customer want units that will stay together, and they want companies that stay together. If the customers aren’t happy, you’re toast.”

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